For the 6th Global Conference on Trauma run by Interdisciplinary.net

A Shut in Place:
A First-hand Account of Understanding Trauma and Mental Illness using Sound Art Practice
Thembi Soddell

First-person madness narratives are any texts that describe, from the inside, a person’s lived experience with mental illness or emotional distress. They often reflect upon the author’s interaction with the mental health system, raise questions regarding accepted methods for diagnosis, cause and treatment and challenge preconceived notions of what it means to be mentally ill. In this paper, I discuss the creation of an 8’23” electroacoustic composition, A Shut in Place, that I composed in collaboration with cellist, Anthea Caddy. This work was partly based on the first-person madness narrative, I Never Promised you a Rose Garden by Joanne Greenberg, a semi-fictionalised account of the author’s stay in a psychiatric institution from 1948-51. Concepts drawn from this book where embedded in the methods used to compose this work to examine how engaging with these themes through the creative process might alter my understanding of mental illness. Compositional rules were set based on themes of confinement, isolation, perceptual distortion and loss of agency that run throughout the text, which were used as loose parameters to guide a more intuitive creative process. A reflective analysis of the work draws a relationship between the compositional structure and a rupture in self-identity that can occur in response to psychological abuse. This led to a rethinking of my perception of symptoms of mental illness and their relationship to occurrences within an individual’s environment, revealing how artistic practice can assist in building a deeper understanding of lived experience and contribute to thinking around trauma and mental illness, and how sharing stories of lived experience can assist in healing and personal growth.

Key Words: Mental illness, trauma, electroacoustic composition, sound art, first-person madness narratives, consumer perspectives.